Secret Deodorant: trans* support or token trans* person?

A few weeks ago I wrote about the rise of trans* awareness in advertising, and the thin line between jumping on a bandwagon and actually portraying authentic gender journeys.

Secret Deodorant explores the message “there’s no wrong way to be a woman” in their new #StressTest ad (by Wieden + Kennedy Portland) and the portrayal of different women in a public toilet. The women entering the toilets can be heard giggling and chatting amongst themselves, as we are presented with another woman hiding in the cubicle, nervously thinking about exiting the stall. It’s hard enough being a woman in a society where we feel constantly judged and persecuted for our appearance and actions, let alone a trans* woman in a heteronormative society.

Now, when I first started watching this, admittedly I cringed. I thought “oh god, here’s a token trans* woman!” but, since researching I’ve found a wonderful authenticity to the script. Whilst P&G deny any political ties to the message, Janine Miletic (brand director of North America Deodorants at P&G) states that:

This ad was inspired by transgender women and a real-life moment which is stressful and challenging. This is one of many stories about women’s stress we’re proud to share

I have to say, this spot perfectly captures the anxiety that a lot of transgender people face while having to use public restrooms, and what makes the ad even more authentic is that the very talented actor Karis Wilde is gender non-conforming (identifies as queer). Hoorah! No cis-gender actors playing gender-diverse roles! Clearly W+K Portland have listened to what is going on in the world, especially the struggle trans* and queer actors face with employment.

The portrayal of queer experiences within advertising and the media is really on the rise this year, which is particularly important for the trans* community when it comes to politics and laws. Whilst Janine Miletic confirms that:

This spot was not intended to make any political statement or to support or oppose any specific legislation. We’re nonpartisan and not affiliated with any political party. ‘Stress-Tested for Women’ builds on Secret’s rich history of supporting all women who show courage in redefining feminine strength.

It’s hard to ignore the connotations towards North Carolina’s HB2, which shook the world when it was announced that a vote was taken to block cities and counties from passing protections against LGBT discrimination in a bill that ended up having terrifying and violent implications. The new law no longer protects transgender people who use public restrooms based on their gender identity.

At the end of the advert we can hear the women saying “great dress”, “it’s really cute”, which I have to admit put a little smile on my face! Welldone W+K!

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